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Security expert: city's quick response to cyber attack may have been 'perfect'

"The City of New Orleans is under a cyber attack. Please power off your computers and unplug them immediately."

NEW ORLEANS — By 11:30 Friday morning, computers at New Orleans City Hall were beginning to go dark.

" Attention all companies," dispatchers radioed to police and fire crews. "The City of New Orleans is under a cyber attack. Please power off your computers and unplug them immediately."

The news was slowly breaking within departments that the city's systems were being compromised.

"Also disconnect all cell phones from wifi," dispatch advised first responders.

City officials say around 5 a.m. Friday, employees began seeing suspicious activity on their computers.

"They could have just been an email that came through, or some suspicious activity on their computers, maybe a popup or something visual," said Kim LaGrue, Chief Information Officer for the City Of New Orleans.

"But anything that was detected, I'm confident that our users were very responsive and gave us information quickly."

Around 11:00 a.m., with the help of investigators, the city was able to confirm the presence of a cyber attack.

Immediately, every employee was asked to turn off and unplug every computer from the city's network.

"First of all, we do detect ransomware, but again, forensic investigation is very, very much active," said Mayor LaToya Cantrell.  "There have been no requests made to the city of New Orleans at this time."

Professor Robert Allen, at the School of Professional Advancement at Tulane University, believes that was the right move.

"From what I'm seeing here, everything went perfect," he said. "They were able to catch it in time, they were able to get done everything they needed to get done. I think they caught it."

He says the city was likely on high alert after the statewide cyber attack a few weeks ago, which targeted agencies like the Office of Motor Vehicles.

And the quick response may help forensics experts get to the bottom of what happened.

"Once the computer goes into hibernation, then you actually have a chance of figuring out what's going on," said Allen. "Because the forensics guys can actually take the computer, they can hook it up to a clean network or a clean server, and then they can start doing their diagnostics and figuring out what's going on."

Friday afternoon, the Mayor Cantrell filed an emergency declaration. Soon after, Governor John Bel Edwards expanded the statewide state of emergency.

And as federal officials join the investigation, city offices plan to go back to pen and paper until further notice.